Insomnia (2002) Review
Where do you go after making a film as critically and commercially acclaimed as Memento? That was the problem facing hotshot director Chris Nolan, after the cult psychological thriller garnered a legion of fans and even an Oscar nomination. Rather than attempt to outdo himself, Nolan decided to take stock of his options and become a 'director-for-hire', bizarrely choosing to remake the Norwegian modern classic Insomnia, directed by Erik Skjoldbjærg and released in 1997. Whether it's necessary to remake recent foreign films or not is another debate, but the remake of Insomnia has an all-star, Oscar-winning cast that includes Al Pacino, Robin Williams and Hilary Swank. The buzz stateside has been very good.
Two LA cops Dormer (Al Pacino) and Eckhart (Martin Donovan) are sent to a small Alaskan town to investigate the murder of a teenage girl. Tensions are rife between the two cops, as Donovan is about to strike a deal with Internal Affairs in turn for exposing some of the shadier dealings of his partner. However, when involved in a foggy chase in pursuit of the suspected murderer, Dormer accidentally shoots his partner, killing him instantly. Rather than admit his mistake, Dormer embarks on a cover-up mission, and even goes so far as striking a pact with the actual murderer (Robin Williams) being investigated in order to deviate the Internal Affairs attention. Soon, the strains on Dormer start to show...
Firstly, Insomnia is nowhere near as good as the original. Nolan's effort lacks the effective unsettling tension that the original evoked, and at times the remake suffers from excessive shot-lingering that flattens the pace. The performances in the Hollywood version are also uninspired. Pacino seems to be going through the motions, and Williams doesn't do anything special in his stock 'killer' role. Hilary Swank and Martin Donovan both turn in fine performances, and yet the film under-uses their talents, particularly Swank, who surely deserves to be higher than third-billed in an industry where Sandra Bullock still leads mediocre films. Maybe this is the film's problem, in that it offers nothing in the way of any premise that is intriguing. Pacino has played so many cops traumatised by anguish and strain before, and Williams has played the kooky oddball before. If they had switched roles, maybe the film would have been more interesting.
Insomnia is a film that people are queuing in their desire to like, based on its cast and the previous offerings of its director. Unfortunately, all of the goodwill in the world on the part of the audience won’t elevate the film above its average level of quality. Quite simply, there is nothing new, and nothing adventurous about the film. This is a real pity, as on occasions Insomnia showcases tremendous potential. Some of the atmospherically eerie settings the film exhibits are almost pure cinematic tension, and the musical score by David Julyan is deliberately overpowering and excessively moody. The real production highlight is the cinematography by Wally Pfister, who casts a looming mist of angst and despair over proceedings.
Whilst Insomnia certainly isn't a classic, it most certainly isn't a bad film. The unfair thing for Nolan is that Memento will play heavily on the minds of the audience, and they will mostly be disappointed with the standard thriller on show in Insomnia. If you manage to shake all of your preconceptions before locating your seat at the cinema, you just might enjoy the film.